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Interior, HHS Achieve Key Buy Indian Act Milestones

Strengthening and expanding usage of the Buy Indian Act has long been championed by The National Center

December 15, 2023

MESA, AZ – The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (The National Center) commends the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for their commitment to implementing key Buy Indian Act provisions contained in the Indian Community Economic Enhancement (ICEE) Act of 2020 (Public Law 116-261). This bipartisan legislation, long championed by The National Center, was sponsored by Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) and Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) and became law in 2020.
Based on the comprehensive FY2023 performance data just released in conjunction with the White House Tribal Nations Summit, the two agencies met or substantially exceeded the ambitious procurement targets the Biden Administration announced a year ago, leading to a total of $2.9 billion in contract awards to Native-owned and Native-controlled businesses. In fact, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Indian Health Service (IHS) contracts awarded to these businesses exceeded Administration goals by more than 100% – from $525 million to $1.07 billion.
“The National Center fought for years for the passage of the ICEE Act and its requirements to strengthen the century old Buy Indian Act procurement authority and increase its utilization,” said Chris James, President and CEO of The National Center. “This new data shows the law is finally working as intended. President Biden and his team deserve high praise for living up to this historic commitment to Indian Country.”
Originally enacted in 1910, the Buy Indian procurement authority lay nearly dormant for 100 years until the Obama Administration finalized updated implementing regulations in 2013. The ICEE Act later required DOI and HHS to harmonize and further strengthen their regulations.
The Biden Administration announced ambitious FY 2023 contracting goals using Buy Indian Act procurement authority. For DOI, goals were to award 75% of contract dollars from Indian Affairs (including the Bureaus of Indian Affairs, Indian Education, and Trust Funds Administration) and 10% of contract dollars across the rest of DOI to Native-owned and Native-controlled businesses. For IHS, the goal was 20% of its spending, with a projected 350% increase in IHS contracts with tribally owned and Native-owned businesses from $55.9 million to $200 million. As the following table shows, these goals have been met or exceeded – in some cases significantly.

In terms of overall agency spending for FY 2023, DOI spent $1.4 billion on Native-owned and Native-controlled businesses (16.9% of its total spending), while HHS spent $1.5 billion (3.8% of its total spending).
“We’re excited to see this progress and encouraged by initiatives at the Department of Energy and General Services Administration to develop Buy Indian-like procurement procedures for Indian Energy Purchase agreements,” James continued. “It’s clearly time for Congress to extend the Buy Indian mandate to all federal agencies to foster the continued growth of Native businesses, starting with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the upcoming Farm Bill. I look forward to close collaboration with DOI, HHS, and officials across the Administration to ensure Buy Indian Act compliance and expansion.”
The National Center, National Congress of American Indians, and Native American Contractors Association formally requested by joint letter in October 2023 that DOI and HHS release comprehensive Buy Indian procurement performance. The data released last week is a good first step to fulfill this request and shows a strong commitment from the Biden Administration to ensure a law passed more than a century ago functions as intended.

Lewis Lowe
lewisl@strategies360.com or 706-302-8404